In Paddle for a Purpose, we told you about over two dozen non-profit organizations and about what they do to help others. Since we returned home, we’ve become involved with several others. And, you readers have told us about your passion for helping others in even more ways! So, we’d like to occasionally feature nonprofit organizations on our site in posts we’ll call Charity Spotlights. Our first Spotlight will introduce you to a charity that has children at its heart – and one of its major fundraisers that gets us out on our bikes every June!
I first learned about the Children’s Cancer Research Fund (CCRF) in the spring of 2015, when I saw an advertisement for a fundraiser that immediately caught my attention. They called it the Great Cycle Challenge. For the first time ever, participants all across the USA were invited to bicycle during the entire month of June, setting their own mileage and fundraising goals. And, the best part? Our collective efforts would benefit a fund to fight children’s cancer! What was this fund? What did they do? My first step was to check the data on charity rating sites. I learned that the CCRF meets the standards of the Charities Review Council, is an accredited charity of the BBB, and has the Guide Star Platinum Seal of Transparency. After a check of their website, https://childrenscancer.org, I was all in, and never looked back.
I signed up for a moderately challenging goal of 250 miles. I looked forward to a reason to get out and ride every day – doing it for kids who should be out living life instead of fighting for it. My bicycle, Gracie, was tired of being neglected, and was looking forward to more time on the trails, too. Thus began my tradition of posting Gracie’s adventures each day, along with photos and a link to ride maps on my fundraising page. Friends often asked how Gracie was doing before even noticing my bowlegged limp and biker’s tan. And then, they made generous donations to give help and hope to the courageous kids and their families. Each year I rode, I heard the stories of more of the children for whom we rode, and learned more about the work of the CCRF.
The Children’s Cancer Research Fund began at the University of Minnesota with a commitment to fund groundbreaking research into children’s cancers, as well as support services that enhance healing and care for these children and their families. A mere 4% of federal funding for cancer research is used specifically for childhood cancer. The CCRF has worked tirelessly since the late 1970’s to raise and distribute funds for this vulnerable and underrepresented group – our children.
What do they fund? The CCRF gives grants for innovative research that may not qualify yet for federal grants or larger funding. Some of these include:
- work on developing a promising CD200 inhibitor vaccine for use on children’s brain tumors,
- study of chemoresistant leukemia cells, with the aim of reducing cases of recurrence of the disease following remission,
- developing less toxic treatments for AML (acute myeloid leukemia)
- and clinical trials of antibody drug therapy to provide alternatives to chemo while drastically improving cancer survival rates.
These are only a few of the ongoing research projects currently being funded. You can find descriptions of these and many more exciting studies (with easy-to-understand explanations) here.
In addition to research, the CCRF also funds programs to improve the quality of life for children with cancer and their families. These include music therapy, a creative songwriting and video production program called Big Dreams Tour, Cure Cancer Bears, and support for organizations such as Care Partners and Caring Bridge.
With Gene’s reduction in work hours as he nears retirement has come more free time to join me on the trails. This year was my fifth year of the GCC and his third. Each year, we’ve challenged ourselves to increase our mileage goals – now up to 500. It’s no longer enough to meander around our hometown of Waukesha. Gene and I, with our trusty two-wheeled companions, Gracie and Champion, can often be found riding scenic trails around our state and hopping on our bikes to get to all our appointments and errands as well. Most days, it’s a pleasure to pedal through God’s creation, and I whisper a thank you for the good health that enables me to be on the trail. Sometimes, we get soaked in an unexpected deluge. We slog through wet crushed limestone that grabs at our tires. We fight heat, leg cramps and soreness you-know-where. But, with most every challenge, I think of the kids for whom we ride, the kids who struggle with treatments, medication, fatigue, and hospitalization, and I pedal on with purpose. They are my inspiration.
Over eighty thousand cyclists participated in the Great Cycle Challenge this year, riding over four million miles and raising over eight million dollars for the CCRF. The riders are representative of all ages and abilities; their goals range from a few miles to thousands. Their reasons for participating are equally varied. One woman, diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, rode 128 miles for “those beautiful children.” Cancer survivors ride for others whose path they know only too well. Cyclists ride in memory of loved ones who lost their lives, and in support of those who continue to fight. One cyclist had to take time off during the month because his wife lost her battle with cancer. He wrote that, as long as it took, he would keep riding to meet his goal for her. Each year, the GCC staff helps to motivate us by sharing pictures and stories of some of the many brave kids who are currently “kicking cancer’s butt”.
The Great Cycle Challenge provides excellent support to the cyclists who volunteer during the month. An app tracks routes and calculates mileage and donation totals. Templates are provided for posting online and posters provided for fundraising efforts. Cycle volunteers are encouraged to ride in honor or memory of others, and a social media group encourages riders to share their stories and organize group rides. One day during the month, the GCC arranges for photos of the riders and those for whom they ride to be shown on the screen in Times Square.
If you like to ride, even a little bit, and want to know more about the Great Cycle Challenge, check it out here. You can check out my goals and maps of my rides at https://greatcyclechallenge.com/riders/barbarageiger or visit Gene’s page at https://greatcyclechallenge.com/riders/genegeiger3.
* Do you have a special charity you’d like me to visit and/or highlight in one of our Charity Spotlights? Write me a note telling me what they do and why it is a special passion of yours. Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.